- $2 million paid by Philadelphia School District to defend itself in lawsuits related to a no-bid contract for surveillance cameras.
- More than $436,000 paid to defend former Attorney General Kathleen Kane in lawsuits filed by former employees.
- The misallocation of cash confiscated from suspected drug dealers in Cambria County.
- The fact that the Pittsburgh Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority was missing financial records and its former director used an ICA debit card for questionable spending. Legislation reforming the ICA, Act 99 of 2016, was subsequently enacted.
- $195,000 paid by the State Police to settle a claim that a man was jailed for nearly a month after troopers using a field drug test mistook soap for cocaine.
- A recommendation, which was never implemented, to install flashing lights at a railroad crossing where a woman was subsequently killed.
- A partially redacted report on the Gettysburg Police Department, including recommendations stemming from an officer’s use of a Taser during an arrest.
- $690,000 paid by Moon Area School District to settle a gender discrimination lawsuit.
- Documents showing that a PPL executive called the company’s storm room to ask about an outage in his neighborhood, leading to a delay in service restoration for other customers.
- Records showing that the Manheim Township School Board authorized a firm to begin searching for a new superintendent before taking a public vote.
PSEA v. OOR
148 A.3d 142 (Pa. 2016)
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that Article I, Section 1, of the state constitution protects personal information such as home addresses. When a record contains such personal information, a balancing test must be performed to determine whether the interest in disclosure outweighs the interest in privacy.
Commonwealth v. Engelkemier
148 A.3d 522 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2016)
On the issue of specificity, the Commonwealth Court affirmed an OOR Final Determination which held that a keyword list can be sufficient to describe the subject matter in a RTK request, depending on the overall context of the request. The court emphasized the three-part test used to determine whether a request is specific enough under the RTKL, examining the extent to which the request sets forth (1) the subject matter, (2) the scope of documents, and (3) the timeframe.
PASSHE v. APSCUF
142 A.3d 1023 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2016)
The Commonwealth Court held that in cases involving voluminous records, the OOR may consider a claim by an agency that it cannot conduct a proper review of the responsive records within the RTKL’s timeline. The agency must provide an estimated number of records and the length of time required to review the records, along with — if the records are electronic — any anticipated difficulty in delivering them.
PUC v. Seder
139 A.3d 165 (Pa. 2016)
The Supreme Court upheld the OOR’s analysis of the Public Utility Code regarding the required disclosure of a “tip letter” and an investigative file associated with a settlement agreement.
Township of Worchester v. OOR
129 A.3d 44 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2016)
The Commonwealth Court held that the OOR, which serves as fact-finder in RTKL appeals, has broad discretion to order in camera review of records.
Grine v. County of Centre
138 A.3d 88 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2016)
The Commonwealth Court found that when financial records of a judicial agency documenting activities of judicial personnel are in the possession of, or shared by, a non-judicial agency, those records must nonetheless be requested from the judicial agency “to ensure the judiciary retains control of its records.”
In re Phila. Dist. Attorney’s Office
2016 Phila. Ct. Com. Pl. LEXIS 55
The Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas found that the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office acted in bad faith when it did not provide records as ordered by the OOR. The court imposed a $500 penalty. Note: The Commonwealth Court upheld this ruling in early 2017, stating that “the Trial Court made the requisite factual findings, supported by substantial record evidence, to conclude as a matter of law that the District Attorney acted in bad faith.”
Other significant cases from 2016 — and previous years — are available on the OOR website.
More than half of the Right-to-Know Law appeals handled by the Office of Open Records last year were filed by everyday citizens, strong evidence that the RTKL is working for people across the state.
Citizens filed 51% of last year’s appeals; inmates filed 34%; members of the media, 7.2%; companies, 6.8%; and government officials, 1%.
That breakdown returned to what had been the norm. In 2015, inmates accounted for a plurality of requests for the first (and, so far, only) time ever. In every other year, citizens have filed more requests than any other group.
Among local agencies, municipal governments (cities, boroughs, and townships) were involved in the most Right-to-Know Law appeals in 2016: 53%.
If you include local police departments and fire departments, that percentage jumps to 63%.
Among commonwealth agencies, the Department of Corrections (38.7%) was involved in more appeals than any other in 2016. The vast majority of DOC appeals were filed by inmates.
The Pennsylvania State Police were involved in 6.8% of commonwealth agency appeals, followed by the Dept. of Transportation (5.9%), the Dept. of Environmental Protection (5.9%), the Board of Probation and Parole (3.8%), the Dept. of Human Services (3.1%), the Philadelphia Parking Authority* (3.0%), and the Dept. of State (2.8%).
* The Philadelphia Parking Authority is a commonwealth agency pursuant to the statute which created it.
The number of appeals filed in 2016 declined from 2015’s record-setting pace, but the complexity of issues presented in the cases continued to grow.
Over the past five years, the average number of cases heard by the OOR is 2,342.
Predictions are dangerous, especially when they’re printed in an annual report (and on this blog) where anyone can refer back to them very easily, but… I predict the number of cases over the next several years will remain between 2,000 and 2,500 per year.
The Office of Open Records’ Annual Report for 2016 is now available. I enjoy putting together these reports and think they provide good insight into how the Right-to-Know Law is working across Pennsylvania.
Highlights from this year’s report include:
- 2,102 appeals were filed with the Office of Open Records in 2016. Of those, more than half (1,077) were filed by everyday citizens.
- 1,424 appeals involved local agencies; 573 involved state agencies. (The remainder involved agencies over which the OOR does not have jurisdiction.)
- 70 training sessions were conducted across the state and attended by about 3,000 people, including public officials, agency employees, and requesters.
- 49 successful mediations were achieved, which help both agencies and requesters by ensuring that the appeals do not move to court.
I’ll be highlighting more of this year’s Annual Report in subsequent posts to this blog.
It was an excellent event (even if last week’s snow did push it into the week after Sunshine Week!), and I appreciate the invitation to participate.
Here’s the presentation I used: